I read a lot of science-fiction and fantasy, but sometimes I wonder if all those epic battles, thrilling worlds and imaginative scenarios might just be a little too exciting. Dangerously thought-provoking. So sometimes, to alleviate all the strain that comes from wonder, creativity and awe, I have to dive right into your plain, old-fashioned recreational reading like a lengthy government document. I tell you, there’s nothing like a tedious analysis of our nation’s security capabilities to make me feel relaxed, settle my blood pressure, and make my brain activity flatline, putting me into that near coma-like trance that tells me there’s no longer any danger of any of those deadly, vicarious thrills that so commonly lay up readers in hospital beds, where they have naught to do but read, thus creating an inescapable cycle. Fortunately, for the time-efficient reader who may not have the time to read through 592 pages of tedious analysis, or for those of us who just want to spice up our recommendations for improved national resistance to terror with a few colorful pictures, I can recommend The 9/11 Report: The Graphic…uh…novel?
So not technically a graphic novel, this adaptation of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks’ epic dissertation on the September 11th terrorist attacks challenges everything we’ve ever thought about our ability to use the phrase “epic dissertation.” Produced by Marvel Comics veterans Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, the book distills information into a 129-page summary that makes it easier to swallow, much in the same way that a can of WD-40 makes it easier to swallow a big chunk of asphalt. It makes a sort of sense, though, that this story would find its way into a comic book, what with the popular culture immortalizing the fire fighters and police officers as godlike super-heroes who can evacuate tall buildings before they’re a simple mound, and the cartoonishly evil scheming on the part of bin Laden and his goons that set up a rather accurate comparison to super-villains (except, well…successful). However, the fact that Jacobson is noted for creating the character Richie Rich, prominent child of wealth hoarders who has a kind, heart of gold, makes me wonder if there wasn’t anyone with a stronger grasp of realism to explain the problems faced by America. You know, like Stephen Colbert.
I joke, but the adaptation is rather artfully done, opening with an timeline of the horrifically unsettling events occurring on all four planes before slipping into the horrifically boring events of the analysis that followed. Not exactly having characters to follow, we learn a lot about individual terrorists, although they mention names as though they were tired of Microsoft Word judging their ability to spell, and so identities are virtually indistinguishable–you know, the way most Americans view anyone from non-English-speaking countries. I went in expecting something ridiculously propaganda-laden, but except for a single panel that depicts George W. Bush as a tall, powerful man with broad shoulders, a pointed jaw, and a sharp, military crew cut, I didn’t feel like any political bias seeped into their interpretation, and I have to say I enjoyed the drawing of Bill Clinton that looked like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but not as much as Karl Rove’s depiction as the love child of Peter Pettigrew and the fat kid from the Goonies…drawn as though he appeared in a Ren and Stimpy cartoon.
Obviously written as a way to introduce–I imagine–high school students to either political science and non-fiction reading, the book has some flaws. As most parts lack plot or even at times any sequence of events, most of the drawings end up being random, unnamed, middle-aged white men, with about 10% of them turning out to look like Bill O’Reilly, standing around staring smugly out of the page as though they’re waiting for the reader to trigger an elaborate prank they set up. Also, while they do a good job of distilling the information into smaller paragraphs and explanations, they often took out text verbatim, without realizing that a subtle depiction of Han Solo in a terrorist lineup doesn’t make the language easier to understand, so the report still comes off as drier than Ann Coulter’s vagina on a Saharan sand dune next to a drawing of a mirage. Still, I’d much rather read 129 pages–which I managed to do in less than a day–than 592, and I think there’s some important stuff in here for both high school students and adults. For example, did you know that the commission recommended America adopt a foreign policy based on empathy, where we pump funding into foreign education and try to assuage some of the things that pissed off terrorists in the first place? Spoiler alert: we didn’t do that.
But really, more government documents need to be written using comic sans.